29 April 2008

My eulogy for my Dad

Eulogy for Thomas Joseph Croghan, 26 May 1944 - 21 April 2008

(For his memorial service, 28 April 2008, in Clinton, NY)

I want to thank everybody for being here today. I’ve never had a moment’s doubt that a great many people loved and honored my Dad. But if I had, then the love, prayers, and all kinds of support that have poured into my family over the past few months would have put those doubts well and truly to rest.

Beloved family, dear friends, neighbors, co-workers - it seems like everybody who’s known my Dad and Mom have grown to love them, and have demonstrated that love in very real, very significant ways again and again in these weeks and months since we learned of Dad’s illness. From the bottom of my heart - to those who could be here today and to those who couldn’t - thank you.

I also want to admit something to you all. Over the past week, I’ve felt a great many strong emotions.

Enormous sadness, loss, and grief for the loss of my beloved Dad.

Deep gratitude and pride for the incredible blessing and privilege it has been to be raised, loved, and taught by this giving, humble, good man.

Overwhelming love, admiration, and concern for the incredibly strong, endlessly caring woman I’m proud to call Mom.

Loving affection for, and pride in, my brother Sean, who as his father’s son has served and loved his Dad and Mom with steadfast courage, humor, and tenderness.

Gratitude for the amazing woman who has had the remarkable good taste to fall in love with my brother, and who has juggled school, work, job interviews, and wedding planning with showering love and support on Sean, Dad, Mom and all of us - all with amazing grace. Anna, I’m so grateful that you’re in our lives.

Deep thankfulness for the amazing woman who had the…uh…remarkable taste to fall in love with me. Tina, I know this has been hard for you, and you’ve been a rock to me and to us. Again. I love you.

Amazed gratitude, as I already mentioned, for the love demonstrated for all of us by a host of dear family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

I’ve felt all of these things. But I need to admit to you all that I’ve felt something else this week, when I’ve thought about standing here in front of you today.

I’ve felt just a little bit scared and intimidated by the prospect of eulogizing Tom Croghan, my Dad. Not because it’s difficult to say good things about Dad - nothing could be further from the truth! But I’ve felt a little scared because I can’t imagine being able to do justice to his life. I don’t care if I stood up here and talked for six hours - you all might care about that, but I don’t, so make yourselves comfortable - but even if I took that long, I couldn’t begin to do justice to the life of this man, this giant.

Some people might look at Tom Croghan’s life and say it was a small life. In his nearly sixty-four years on this earth, Dad never had a lot of money. He came from humble beginnings in his Irish immigrant family in Utica, NY, and through a lifetime of hard work and dedication, provided everything his family needed to be happy and secure - and knew there was nothing more worth asking for.

He was never famous, unless you count the reputation that “the Croghan boys” had in certain pubs and taverns in Utica during a particular decade. Wait, there’s a different word for that, isn’t there? “Infamous.” That’s the one.

Dad never had authority over large numbers of people. He never had impressive belongings (though he took great care with what he had). He never earned the envy of those who value audacious wealth, status, and power. But he commanded the respect and admiration of anyone who knew him, and who knew what is truly valuable in this life.

You could call my Dad’s life small, but if you did, just don’t expect me to comprehend what the hell you’re talking about. Because I stand here in awe of the many ways in which this man - this man who mysteriously stood several inches shorter than it said on his Air Force papers - this man was a giant.

Tom Croghan was a devoted son. I’m sure his beloved brothers and sisters gathered here could say more than I can about that, but I know Dad used to go to the cemetery for hours to talk with his own dear father, the Grandpa Croghan I never met. And several of Dad’s siblings have remarked just in the past few weeks about the joy with which Grandma Croghan would greet the arrival of Dad’s red pickup truck for one of his frequent visits.

Tom was a devoted and well-loved brother. Every one of his dear sisters and brothers loved Dad dearly, as he loved them - and they showed it. Their children and grandchildren all had a special affection for Uncle Tom, and Dad, with his unfailing ability to relate to kids at their level - you know what I mean - returned that love. Dad would never hesitate a moment to go anywhere or do anything for his family.

My Dad was a dear friend to many, and I’ve been deeply touched many, many times during my life, by the fierce affection of Dad’s long-time buddies for him, and his for them. Dad was a man with strong, close friendships and lifelong friends. He was a man who would always, always be there for someone, and he inspired the same devotion in those blessed to call him friend.

Tom Croghan’s career was not one in which he rose through the ranks of management, but listen to the recent words of his boss’s boss:

I had the great pleasure of working with Tom for several years. I admired his work ethic, intelligence, and wicked sense of humor. He accompanied me to visit [an automotive supplier] once, and correctly showed a group of highly educated engineers that their drawings contained errors. They had previously stated that there was no way their drawings were incorrect, but Tom respectfully proved them wrong. I went to Tom often...to get his opinions on complicated drawings because I knew he was uniquely qualified to answer. I respected him so very much, and will miss him greatly.

Dad was not a man with impressive academic credentials or executive power. He was a consummate professional and a master of his craft. He was proud of his professional accomplishments, and rightly so. Many of his co-workers have expressed that they don’t know what they’ll do without him.

My Dad was probably the strongest man I ever met. In addition to all the other things he was in his lifetime, I want us to remember this, too: Tom Croghan was a drunk. There was a time before I met him that Dad was drinking so much, every day, that it could easily have killed him. My Mom recently mentioned, to the amazement of Sean, Tina, and me, that he first needed to get dentures when he got his teeth knocked out in one of many youthful drunken brawls.

But that’s not the man I ever knew. It’s not the man Sean ever knew, and it’s not the man Mom ever knew. The Tom Croghan we knew was the one who, by sheer force of will, cleaned himself up and remade himself into a gentle, humble, hard-working and responsible husband, father, and friend. Who gave up a heavy cigarette habit, quitting cold turkey and never going back. Who went to college at age 50, and proved what we always knew was true: that he had the drive and intelligence to get A’s while working full-time and continuing to be the attentive, devoted husband and father he always was.

Tom Croghan was the most loving, caring, committed husband I’ve ever met. He and Mom were lifemates, partners, best friends - in every way the most perfect example of a loving marriage relationship that I’ve ever encountered. Dad was the love of Mom’s life, and Mom was his. We, their children, are so, so blessed to have had their example of a powerful love relationship in our lives. As Mom has said many times, “We had the best.” Yes, we did. We did.

I don’t know if I can speak for Sean when I try to talk about what Dad means to us as a father. Actually, I know I can’t. Each of us has our own relationship with our Dad, and our own experience of who he was. But I know beyond doubt that he agrees with me when I say that Tom Croghan was the best father we could ever, ever imagine having.

Dad was never all that verbally expressive, but we never for one moment doubted that he loved us fiercely and unconditionally. He would do absolutely anything for his beloved family, and he did. Everything he did - a lifetime of dedication, hard work, and service, he did for us. With his natural, slightly bent sense of humor - so much a part of Dad - he was constantly making us laugh and making us happy, right up to the end. He was always there for us, always supported us, and always showed his love for us in so many ways.

A couple of weeks before Dad passed away, our Hospice chaplain, Michael, stopped by and talked with Mom, Dad, and me. At one point in the conversation, Dad said, “I hope…” and had difficulty finishing the sentence. Michael gave him some time, and then said, “Tom, that’s something I wanted to ask you about. What do you hope?” Dad paused, and then said, “I hope…the kids are happy.”

Later that day, I told Dad that I wanted him to know this, because it’s true. I am happy. But I want you all to know that I’m happy because I’m the man Dad raised me to be. When I think about it, I realize that so many of the aspects of who I am that people tell me they admire - they come from Dad.

Sometimes people say things to me like, “You’re such a servant.” Well, if I am, it’s because I was brought up by this man who devoted every moment of his life as a husband and father to humble and tireless service of the people in his life. It’s because I’m the son of Tom Croghan, a man whose effortless giving nature and utter selflessness I can never, ever hope to imitate, as hard as I may try.

I am happy, and it’s because I have a wife who loves me, and dear friends who love me. And they love me because I am a man raised by a giant - by a great man who led a great life. Thank you, Dad. I love you so much.

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